The silence of the night was punctuated by the distant rumble as thousands of grand mountains abruptly rose from the ground. They emerged out of the void, yet their imposing stance against the backdrop of the dark night formed a grand vista.
Some of these freshly formed mountains were tens of thousands of meters tall. Their altitudes ascended into the vault of heaven, like a divine sword jabbing into the sky. Their cliffs were so steep and vertical that even the most skilful mountaineers would find themselves incapable of clambering.
Some of these mountains were broad and extensive. They looked like Mahisha, the mythological creature that exuded grandeur and composure.
"Is this still the Taihang Mountains that I knew?" Zhou Quan was astounded. He bit his lip to assure that this was not a dream world.
The changes were so extreme that it felt like heaven and earth had been overturned.
Those extraordinary sights and wonderful views were awe-inspiring and surreal.
Chu Feng was dumbstruck. He was in a bit of trance.
In front of Chu Feng, it was a never-ending undulation of great mountain ridges. They appeared out of thin air, then they claimed their pre-eminence over the original Taihang Mountains with their towering stance.
The Taihang Mountains became much broader, more vigorous and more forceful than before.
Both Chu Feng and Zhou Quan had spent their entire childhood growing up in this region. No one could be more familiar to the makeup of this district than they were. The changes before their eyes were on a magnificent scale. It was chaotic yet sumptuous. It was beauty blended with disorder, resulting in an imposing surrealistic artwork.
This was both astonishing and terrifying.
"Do you think there are any deific fruits in these mountains? Or what about a cave dwelling of some celestial beings?" Zhou Quan had quite a lot of leaps in his thoughts, but one had to admit that his mind became exceptionally active when it came to these whimsical ideas.
There had been news reports about the strange occurrences that had happened on Mount Song, Wangwu Mountain and many other places. It had been reported that purple light was seen streaming down even the most ordinary rocks.
That winged-man who had swallowed a strange silver fruit by accident was also living near the Wangwu Mountains.
Zhou Quan was lost in a reverie. Strange and impractical thoughts thronged his mind. He, too, wanted to acquire the ability to enable him to soar overhead in a great height.
Chu Feng, by contrast, stayed relatively cool-headed and composed. "Wake up!" Chu Feng said, "It's dangerous to be overly optimistic about these things. These mountains could be short of anything but ferocious beasts. It will basically mean the death of us once we dare ourselves to set foot on one of them. So let's not kill ourselves in the process of trying to realize your unrealistic dream of becoming an immortal."
Chu Feng's words made Zhou Quan's heart skip a beat. He was right; in a world that was muddled with chaos and disorder, the chances of acquiring death was just as feasible as him acquiring a desirable power.
Like a testament to Chu Feng's words, a beasty roar echoed from deep within the mountain. It was the sound of a behemoth howling into the air, full of fire and fury.
Zhou Quan's hair stood on end. He raised his head and looked up at the mountains, carefully searching for the source of the sound.
"It... it is from that mountain. Am I seeing... a gri... griffin howling at the summit?" Out of shock and terror, Zhou Quan speech was slurred.
The mountain which Zhou Quan referred to was distant. But faintly, Chu Feng could see a globe of fire jittering about. It looked like a red-haired beast staring into the distance, roaring. Then, it started gulping and spitting the essence of the sun and the moon.
It was indeed a griffin, and this vicious beast resided right near the location of their houses. It posed a real threat to all the local villages.
Blood drained from Zhou Quan's rubicund face. He looked pale as a sheet.
Chu Feng and Zhou Quan had only just returned from a calamitous journey, then immediately after, their lives were on the line again. Can we not take a break, thought Zhou Quan, Or do we have to run for it again?
The wind was rising in the distance. A dark cloud sailed by, then landed in the mountains.
"A giant bird?" Chu Feng's eyelid involuntarily twitched. How monstrous of a bird was that!
"Did I... did I see it right?" Zhou Quan's voice trilled with terror. He swallowed hard and shook his head.
That giant bird had a greyish body. It landed somewhere deep in the mountains.
"No one would possibly escape from its clutch if that thing decided to come out and hunt for men outside these mountains." Zhou Quan sighed. Those were the birds of prey, wild and ferocious.
Before the sound of his voice had even died away, a vicious bird cladded in purple feathers fluttered its wings and flew towards them from within the mountains. It was somewhat smaller than the one that had just flown by, but its size was still plenty above par.
It had a very distinctive look. Its feathers were shining with glittering luster. It seemed as if the bird had been cast in gold.
"Oh crap. I'm such a jinx. Look! One of them is coming for us." Zhou Quan regretted so much that he wanted to give himself a slap on the face.
Both of them had their skin prickled with apprehension. They hastily ran for cover behind a tree by the road. The thought that they might become that bird's first feast of the night made them quail.
The luster emanated from that bird made a drastic contrast against the dark backdrop of the night. It flew like a purple lightning, briskly traversing across the sky. The bird was yowling in a delighted manner. It seemed excited. Perhaps it was longing for something thrilling.
Suddenly, its body became a sphere of purple flame, burning ablaze and illuminating the night sky.
This was a heart-trembling moment.
This kind of blazing flare was a terrifying sight even to those who were observing from a far distance. It brought daylight into the night sky and sent episodes of searing heatwaves down to the ground, making both Chu Feng and Zhou Quan all sweaty and wet.
The purple bird of prey was like a purple sun hanging in the vault of heavens, rendering the world especially bright and resplendent.
"I swear, I have never ever seen anything ever so frightening in my life. That's clearly a demonic bird. It could only take one of them to destroy an entire town," Zhou Quan murmured, his mind full of puzzlement and bewilderment.
Chu Feng was also lost for words, because only god knew how many of these devilish beasts and birds of prey were residing in the Taihang Mountains. By a conservative estimate, if one assumed that there was only one for each mountain, then thousands would emerge just then.
However, a wretched tweet, which echoed from the sky, utterly astounded the two.
The two looked into direction of the sound, and they saw that giant bird scorching in a purple flame. It struggled and gave a plaintive whine before it dropped out of the sky and fell into its demise.
How was this happening? Chu Feng and Zhou Quan stared blankly at each other.
Just then, it was full of imposing vigor. As it fluttered it wings, the bird was poised for the height of the sky. They thought that those beams of radiance was a show of its power and capability, but who would have guessed that it was a mere self-ignition for a suicidal purpose.
It was a sound of explosion coming from mid-air. That purple bird of prey had disintegrated into millions of pieces before its body touched the ground. After a blinding blaze, the pieces became ashes, drifting profusely and disorderly.
Did it just die like this? Chu Feng and Zhou Quan kept to their muteness for a long while.
"Bless us, the Holy Mountain of Taihang!"
At last, Zhou Quan broke the silence. He clenched a fist in the other hand and moved them about at his chest as a form of worshipping. He also made a bow with hands folded in front as a way to send his prayers. Zhou Quan had become increasingly superstitious thanks to all kinds of strange occurrences that had happened lately.
Suddenly, the Taihang Mountains became astir again. A monstrous looking beast came in sight with a body radiating an eerie red luminescence. Its body resembled a standing crocodile, but it had wings that could flutter. It flew right in their direction.
As it approached near the outer bound of the mountains, it blasted into a globe of blazing flames. It gave out screeches of shrill cries that indicated its profound agony. It fell from the sky, degrading into ashes.
"Down goes another one!"
Chu Feng and Zhou Quan started to realize a certain pattern. "So it was not an act of suicide. It's that no matter what, they cannot pass the outer boundary of the mountains."
The two stared at each other in uncertainty.
"Should we go take a look?"
Drastic changes had brought the world a plethora of the unexpected. They knew that the world from now on would perhaps become drastically different from what they had been familiarized with. If they had the courage and nerves to take the initiative, they might perhaps run into some ineffable opportunities at the start of this episode of major mishaps and acquire abilities beyond mankind's capability.
Of course, as the old saying went, "no pain, no gain". There were great risks that associated with their intent to exploit this opportunity; the risk of losing a limb or two or even death.
It was not to say that they didn't have the courage to step into the unknown, but they were certainly concerned. However, though they would not enter the mountains just yet, nothing at this point could hold back their urge to walk a few miles towards the mountains. They wanted to be sure what caused the incineration of those beasts.
It did not seem far at all, but it took them 6 li to reach the outer boundary of these mountains. The ground was plentifully bestrewn with ashes, broken bones and marks of scorch on the animal's fragmented tissues and feathers. Those were the parts that had partly survived the inferno blaze.
Clueless as to why, Zhou Quan could not stop his legs from shivering. His calf muscle cramped and felt enfeebled. Zhou Quan could barely stand still.
Chu Feng also felt uneasy. He felt like being watched by some beasts creeping behind his back. His body stiffened, his hair stood on end, and his eyelids twitched involuntarily.
The two took a deep breath and continuously retreated from the site. They now felt how simple and stupid their initial idea was. They started to come to realize that these mountains were no longer the ones that they were once familiar with. These were the mountains that no one should ever come close to.
Only moments later, after they had hidden themselves in the dense forest, they suddenly spotted many globes of lights, the size of lanterns, emerging one after another at where they just stood. Some appeared bloodily red, some were in an ominous blue, some were golden with a piercing shine, but all share the same bitingly cold look.
Their numbers were overwhelming, thickly dotting the place.
"Eyes! Those are eyes! Whoever belonged to them want to come out!" Zhou Quan made an unearthly cry under his breath. He was blind with terror.
Oddly, that particular place was extremely dark. While some of the deeper sections of the mountain range were lustrous with reflection of the starry sky, for that one specific site, it seemed as if all lights had been absorbed and none could be reflected. Only those hollow and terrifying eyes were visible.
Suddenly, something bustled out of the darkness into the opening. It trembled the ground and shivered the forests. Leaves were rustling down. It was a rather horrific scene to behold.
However, just like that of the previous few times, as soon as it stepped out of the outer boundary, its body ruptured and disintegrated, then it burst into flames, degrading into nothing but ashes.
"Are they purposely doing this to kill themselves? How stupid!" Zhou Quan mumbled. He sounded like he was at ease, but in fact, both of his legs were still shivering in fear.
Soon afterwards, a streak of deafening roar sounded before another string of animals beastly charged towards the outer boundary of the mountains. There were even silver spiders in the size of a house crawling in towards Chu Feng and Zhou Quan. But all died the same death; all degraded into the same pile of despicable ashes.
Nothing could come out alive.
"Oh, the Holy Taihang Mountain!" Zhou Quan almost kneeled down to express his gratitude. He felt ever so blessed.
At long last, a hush fell on the pitch-black opening that every one of those celestial beings had taken as an exit to freedom to the outside world. Little had they known, it was an entry to hell.
Although it was quiet and serene with the prevailing perfect silence, those eyes of evil spirits still persisted by the exit point.
Tranquility lingered until rays of golden glow suffused the vault of the heaven. A golden aura emerged to suggest the incoming of something divine and sacred.
It was a calf with a golden body. Its lustrous hair glowed in the darkness. The calf seemed as if it had been cast in gold. Even its pupils and pair of tiny horns were gleaming with gold.
It did not have the clumsiness typical of a bovine animal. It exuded an atmosphere of intelligence and spiritualism. One would have already known that this was indeed an otherworldly and extraordinary animal even at first glance.
At the very least, no one would have ever seen a golden calf born in nature.
It was dreadfully quiet at the exit. Many pairs of biting cold eyes fixated themselves onto the golden calf. They wanted to see the calf leaving unscathed.
One step, two steps... ten steps... one hundred steps!
That calf was intact throughout the process. It was unharmed, uninjured, and most importantly, it survived through its daunting attempt to escape.
The calf was very much excited. To their surprise, it had the ability to express its mood and sentiments, just like a normal human being. Its courage greatened. It started picking up speed, becoming bolder and bolder.
Zhou Quan cursed under his breath. He was a bit worried, but he was also tempted. "This must be a bull god. Just look at its pure golden body. It must have its own subtlety that can help us. Look how small it is. Can we capture it?"